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FIA's F1 stewards risk setting DANGEROUS precedent with lenient judgements

FIA's F1 stewards risk setting DANGEROUS precedent with lenient judgements

FIA's F1 stewards risk setting DANGEROUS precedent with lenient judgements

FIA's F1 stewards risk setting DANGEROUS precedent with lenient judgements

The FIA’s refusal to penalise two unsavoury collisions in FP3 at the Spanish Grand Prix may be setting a dangerous precedent in the sport.

Lance Stroll drove into the side of Lewis Hamilton when he was easy to avoid, and minutes later Charles Leclerc swerved across Lando Norris’ line and caused unnecessary contact.

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Both offending drivers felt that they were impeded in previous corners, but losing out on any lap time - let alone in a practice session - is surely no excuse to initiate contact with another car.

Neither driver received a penalty. Instead, the stewards opted to hand out a brace of reprimands, despite describing both moves as ‘erratic’.

GPFans looks at previous incidents and the potential dangers of such moves to assess whether the FIA’s punishments fit the crimes.

Lance Stroll hit Lewis Hamilton in third practice in Spain
Charles Leclerc swiped across Lando Norris after feeling he was blocked

What incidents occurred in Spanish Grand Prix practice?

Hamilton was the initial victim of what could be termed a pair of seemingly intentional bumps in the final practice session in Spain.

The Mercedes driver acknowledged that he had blocked Stroll through turn five, but probably thought his hand of apology towards the Canadian would be the end of the matter.

Stroll, however, opened his steering lock to veer towards Hamilton, and hit the 39-year-old's sidepod, leading to floor damage for the Aston Martin.

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Not long after, Leclerc appeared to retaliate after Norris had blocked him through the first sector.

The 26-year-old pulled across Norris off the racing lane and slowed as he passed the Brit, leading to a collision between the two.

Sky F1 pundit Karun Chandhok called it ‘road rage’, and colleague Anthony Davidson was certain the Monegasque would receive a penalty.

Why did Stroll and Leclerc escape penalties?

However, Leclerc and Stroll were only given reprimands, and escaped both sporting and financial penalties for breaching article 33.4 of the sporting regulations, which states that ‘at no time may a car be driven unnecessarily slowly, erratically or in a manner which could be deemed potentially dangerous to other drivers or any other person.’

The stewards decided that Stroll and Hamilton’s contact was ‘incidental’, considering the move erratic rather than dangerous, even though Stroll had admitted he intended to show his frustrations.

Lance Stroll was not penalised by the stewards for his collision with Lewis Hamilton

He confessed to the stewards that he ‘wanted to express his displeasure to the other driver by pulling over on him at the exit’. Whether that included actually making contact with Hamilton is unclear, but using an F1 car as a weapon, or threatening to do so, cannot be an acceptable standard of driving.

Leclerc, meanwhile, said he was ‘upset’ with Norris, but was adamant he simply misjudged the McLaren’s position whilst trying to get off the racing line.

Again, the driving was seen as erratic, not dangerous, ‘irrespective of any possible intent’ according to those making the calls.

The stewards claimed that both outcomes were ‘in line with precedents’, but looking back to similar examples, is that the case?

Has this sort of incident happened before?

This is not the first time erratic, potentially intentionally so, driving has made waves in F1.

Pastor Maldonado has been the perpetrator twice. He cut across Hamilton in qualifying at the 2011 Belgian Grand Prix when the Brit strayed slightly off line, causing significant damage, including a puncture for the Williams driver. Hamilton received a reprimand for his involvement.

Maldonado was punished with a five-place grid penalty. A year later, the Venezuelan received a 10-place drop when he cut across Sergio Perez in third practice in Monaco.

The most notable incident of this nature in recent memory came in Azerbaijan in 2017, when Sebastian Vettel drove into Hamilton under the safety car after feeling he was brake tested.

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Sebastian Vettel came together with one of Toto Wolff's Mercedes cars in 2017

Vettel was given a 10 second stop-and-go penalty for causing a collision, and later admitted responsibility and apologised. The FIA said that they remained ‘deeply concerned by the wider implications of the incident’, both in damage to the sport’s reputation, and the potential influence on drivers in junior categories.

Vettel’s apology and commitment to carry out educational activities at such junior events prevented further action being taken.

Should Stroll and Leclerc have faced harsher action?

With those incidents in mind, it is surprising that Stroll and Leclerc escaped without any meaningful punishment.

Regardless of the outcomes of the moves - there was no significant damage, and no sporting advantage gained or lost - deliberately driving into another driver is unacceptable in F1.

Proving such intent is another matter entirely, but the actions of Stroll and Leclerc resulted in a collision with another car, which could have created a dangerous situation.

Vettel’s bump with Hamilton was more forceful, but at slower speed under the safety car, and the stewards called that dangerous as well as erratic.

Maldonado’s offences were more obvious, and in Belgium at higher speed, but even his practice scrape with Perez resulted in a significant grid drop.

Why, then, have the stewards not taken more action this weekend? Perhaps they were not willing to form a cloud over what promised to be an exciting qualifying session by implementing grid drops.

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Are the FIA setting a dangerous precedent by not punishing these incidents?

Then again, in Canada they were happy to give Perez a three-place drop for the grid in Spain when Red Bull created a dangerous scenario by instructing him back on track with a damaged car.

On another day, these actions could have seen Stroll put Hamilton in the gravel or Leclerc dramatically spin himself or Norris out - would the stewards have officiated more harshly there, based on the outcome rather than the incident?

Ultimately, erratic driving and causing avoidable contact should be strictly dealt with in order to set a strong precedent and avoid similarly dangerous situations in the future.

Instead, the stewards have left the door open on what is and is not acceptable when it comes to intentionally causing a collision, and seem to have a fluid definition of what is and is not dangerous.

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Lewis Hamilton Max Verstappen F1 Lando Norris Charles Leclerc FIA
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